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Weber State launching push to bolster Latino student count, access to federal funds

By Tim Vandenack - | Oct 9, 2021

Photo supplied, Banjamin Zack/Weber State University

Members of the Weber State University Ballet Folklórico group prepare for a campus event during Weber State’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Sept. 30, 2021.

OGDEN — Weber State officials have long striven to promote diversity at the university and support Latino students at the school.

Now they’re going a step further, hoping to bolster the share of Latinos at the school to 15% of the student body and, eventually, to as high as 25%. It’s part of a stated mission of becoming an Emerging Hispanic-Servicing Institution and, eventually, a Hispanic-Servicing Institution, or HSI, a U.S. Department of Education designation that can pave the way for additional federal funding.

On reaching the 25% threshold, eligible institutions can tap into funds to help expand their educational opportunities and academic offerings with a focus on Latino students, said Enrique Romo, assistant vice president for access and diversity at Weber State. HSI funding can also be used to help recruit and retain Latino students and to hire Latino faculty members.

Furthermore, according to the U.S. Department of Education, being an HSI institution can pave the way for funds to increase the number of Latinos pursuing degrees in sciences, technology and engineering. It can also enhance opportunities for Latinos to pursue postbaccalaureate education.

Officially, around 11% of Weber State students are Latino, according to Romo, but he thinks the actual figure is higher. Either way, the first step to becoming an HSI is to become an Emerging Hispanic-Servicing Institution, or EHSI, which applies to colleges with Latino enrollments of 15%-24.9%.

Photo supplied, Benjamin Zack/Weber State University

Members of the Weber State University's Ballet Folkorico group watch a video of a past performance during a community event celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at Weber State on Sept. 30, 2021.

Reaching the 15% mark is the first goal at Weber State, and university officials are now focused on creating a formal strategy to reach the mark, possibly by 2025. “What do we need to do to make sure we get to those numbers?” Romo said.

About a third of the population of Ogden, Weber State’s home base, is Latino, and Latinos make up a little more than half of the students in the Ogden School District. Those demographics have figured in the university’s focus on recruiting among the population and helping them with their transition to the university.

In pursuing EHSI and HSI status, Romo envisions Weber State bolstering partnerships with the Ogden, Weber and Davis school districts and other institutions, among other things.

No public universities in Utah currently have EHSI or HSI status, according to Romo. Many in California, Texas and other states do, though, according to National Center for Education Statistics figures for 2018.

As of the fall of 2018, the HSI institutions collectively had an enrollment of 1.76 million Latino undergraduates and 77,802 graduate students, according to the NCES figures. In the 2017-2018 school year, the HSI institutions awarded 138,106 associate degrees, 99,718 bachelor’s degrees, 19,938 master’s degrees and 2,299 doctorates to Latino students.

The 11% or so Latino student count at Weber State is on par with several other Utah public universities, according to the NCES. In the fall of 2020, the University of Utah, Dixie State University and Utah Valley University each had Latino populations of about 12%. The figure was 7% at Brigham Young University and Southern Utah University and 6% at Utah State University.

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